An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Oxford Movement, The

A nineteenth-century movement which reasserted the apostolic and catholic heritage of Anglicanism. The Oxford Movement is also known as the Catholic Revival. It emphasized the church's identity as the divine society and the sacramental character of the church's corporate life. It also sought to uphold the BCP as the rule of faith. It began when several priests of the Church of England, most notably Edward Pusey, John Henry Newman, and John Keble, became convinced that the Church of England had abandoned its heritage as a catholic and apostolic church. They feared that the Church of England was in danger of apostasy. The immediate beginning of the Oxford Movement was a sermon preached by Keble in 1833 in which he denied the authority of the British Parliament to abolish several dioceses in Ireland.

Keble, Pusey, Newman, and others began to publish a series known as Tracts for the Times, which called the Church of England to return to the ways of the ancient and undivided church in matters of doctrine, liturgy and devotion. The Tracts were a powerful and influential expression of the principles of the Oxford Movement, and the Oxford Movement has also been known as the Tractarian Movement. The writers of the Tracts and their supporters have been known as Tractarians. The Tracts were strongly opposed to the abuses which they saw in the Roman Catholic Church, but they were attacked as "papist" and rejected by many. However, many others were convinced by the Tracts, and the Oxford Movement became a major force in the Church of England. The leaders of the Oxford Movement taught that the Church of England and the larger Anglican Communion are part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The last Tract was Newman's Tract 90(1841), which generally sought to interpret the Thirty-Nine Articles as consistent with the decrees of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563). This prompted considerable criticism and ended the publication of Tracts. The movement faced a crisis when Newman and others subsequently left the Church of England to become Roman Catholics. The Oxford Movement survived this crisis through the work of Pusey, Keble, Robert Wilberforce, and a second generation of priests, known as the ritualists, who worked among the poor in the large cities of Britain.

The Oxford Movement encouraged a recovery of the beauty of the church's worship in the external forms of liturgical ceremonies, vestments, and music. It led to a renewed appreciation for the church's catholic heritage and tradition, the importance of the apostolic ministry and the sacraments, the recovery of Anglican spiritual life, the revival of monastic life in the Anglican Communion, and appreciation for the ancient doctrines, discipline, and devotional practices of the church. It inspired the Library of the Fathers, which included English translations of patristic works. The first volume was Pusey's translation of Augustine's Confessions (1838), with a preface by Pusey on the significance of patristic study. The movement also led to the liberal catholic movement at the end of the nineteenth century.

In the United States, the Oxford Movement had considerable impact, although many of its theological principles had been earlier anticipated. Many Tractarian parishes were established throughout the United States, especially in the midwest where Nashotah House in Wisconsin was influential. As in England, the movement led to many controversies in the Episcopal Church. There was an investigation of the General Theological Seminary in New York. General Convention passed an anti-ritualist canon. James DeKoven was denied episcopal election, and a few people followed Newman to the Roman Catholic Church. But the controversies eventually quieted down in the United States as in England, and many of the principles of the Oxford Movement have become widely accepted in the Episcopal Church. See Tracts for the Times; see DeKoven, James.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.